When it comes to protecting America’s combat troops in battle, research under way at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering could be a lifesaver.
Under a partnership with Armor Holdings, Inc. of Jacksonville, FSU researchers are developing and testing first-of-its-kind body armor for soldiers’ arms and legs that could reduce fatalities and loss of limbs when they are wounded.
"Most of the folks who die in military conflicts don’t die from getting shot," said James Thagard, a visiting assistant professor with the engineering school’s Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T). "Seventy-five to 80 percent die from getting hit by shrapnel and excessive bleeding."
Troops already receive protective helmets, bulletproof vests and shoulder armor to help them survive combat, but their arms and legs are exposed. The armor would be among the first products manufactured by the defense industry to protect soldiers’ extremities.
"The reality is you can’t protect everything," Thagard said. "There are always areas of a soldier’s body that will be exposed, but this is a good place to start. Right now there are no requirements for extremity protection."
FSU received $100,000 from Armor Holdings in November to cover two months of research. More grants from the company are expected in 2005 to continue the work. As part of the partnership, FSU researchers are also experimenting with polymers toughened with carbon nanotubes to improve the strength of fabrics used to make bulletproof armor. In developing the new body armor, Thagard bound multiple layers of fabric and plastic materials together to create the experimental armor.
Ballistics tests show the combination of materials exceeds the new requirements for bulletproof vests while providing the necessary aesthetic and mechanical properties so the armor can be worn comfortably. Thagard has begun making prototype pieces of the armor, which will be given to Armor Holdings to manufacture on a broad scale for field-testing. Armor Holdings already manufactures vests and other plates that soldiers wear to protect their torso.
"There is more that can be done to protect beyond the core torso area," said Bob Mecredy, president of the Armor Holdings Aerospace and Defense Group. "We are thrilled to be partnering with Florida State and believe our combined efforts will produce results that have a direct, even lifesaving, benefit for soldiers in the field."
Thagard’s new armor will likely be field tested at military training facilities in the coming weeks and months to see if it can be comfortably worn and isn’t too bulky.
"It’s really promising that we’ve been able to come up with this at FSU," Thagard said holding a panel of the new armor. "We know that this recipe is good and just hope it can be utilized quickly to help save more soldiers."
The partnership with Armor Holdings represents just the latest area of high-tech composite materials research at the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies. In addition to the new body armor, Thagard and other researchers have developed lightweight, custom leg supports for various uses. One brace helps Navy Seabee Anthony Muller of Jacksonville
to walk after he sustained a severe leg wound in Iraq. Another support keeps FSU Seminole star receiver Craphonso Thorpe at peak performance after he suffered a broken leg last year.
"We are only scratching the surface in realizing the potential of composites," said Professor Ben Wang, the center’s director. "I am really excited about this project. Anytime you can develop a technology that will save lives and make life better for the men and women serving our nation, you can’t help but be excited."